Category: Lawn & Garden

Bob Vila Radio: Choose the Right Fuel for Your Fire Pit

Fire pits vary widely in design and sophistication, running the gamut from a simple hole in the ground to sculptural, push-button units involving no wood whatsoever. Read on for details on the myriad options on the market today.


A fire pit introduces a festive yet intimate feeling to any outdoor living area, and perhaps best of all, there are countless appealing designs that are readily available.

Types of Fire Pits


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Listen to BOB VILA ON FIRE PIT FUELS or read the text below:

That said, you may not want to choose a fire pit based only on looks. There are a range of different fuel types to consider, each featuring its own set of pros and cons.

A traditional wood-burning fire pits produces the most heat and therefore can double as an outdoor grill, if desired. The downside is that seasoned hardwood can be pricey and to remain usable in the near term, it must be stored out of the rain. Also, wood-burning fire pits generate smoke and sparks, and while you may have assumed that any fire pit would do so, that’s no longer the case.

Natural gas fire pits light up instantaneously, at the push of a button, and they are smokeless. However, because they require a gas line, such units are not portable. Also, depending on how you intend to use your fire pit, it’s worth noting that gas models produce less heat than their wood-burning cousins.

A third option is propane, which offers the convenience and smokeless operation of natural gas, but with the important exception that, since the fuel comes in small tank, propane pits are easy to move. You must refill the tank, of course, when it runs out, and to some homeowners, the tanks themselves are not so nice to look at.

Clean-burning ethanol gel fire pits are the most environmentally friendly choice, but they are also the most expensive. Also, since ethanol gel fire pits deliver the lowest heat output of all, meaning that for any purpose other than creating a glowing ambiance, you’re better off with another type.

No matter which type of fire pit you favor, be sure to check local fire ordinances before purchasing and using your choice.

Bob Vila Radio is a 60-second home improvement radio tip of the day carried on more than 186 stations in 75 markets around the country. Click here to subscribe, so you can automatically receive each new episode as it arrives—absolutely free!

How To: Get Rid of Gophers

Don’t let a gopher get the best of you or your backyard! Learn how to get rid of gophers and keep them away with several simple solutions.

How to Get Rid of Gophers - Backyard Rodents

Photo: via Mechanoid Dolly

Even if you’re not an avid cultivator of prized begonias or caretaker of an expensive golf course like Bill Murray’s character in Caddyshack, having a gopher in your yard can still put a damper on your lush landscape. But these merely scratch the surface of what damage the critters can do. While these small, vegetarian, half-blind rodents seem fairly harmless, they didn’t earn their pest classification by just disrupting a little soil.

Gophers are very territorial and solitary, so you’ll rarely get more than one critter per acre, but even the one can do a fair amount of damage: He can dig up 10 to 30 mounds of dirt in your yard every month, eating through roots, vegetables, stems, and just about anything else in its underground path—edible or not. That includes tree roots and utility lines, both with the potential to cause a lot of damage. Their network of tunnels provide sinkholes in your yard that are as potentially dangerous for pedestrians as they are unsightly. And they’re trouble for other nearby animals: Like all wild rodents, gophers tend to carry lice, fleas, ticks, and mites, and often pass those along to pets who spend time in your yard. Plus, the presence of a gopher can encourage other unwanted guests—predators like weasels, skunks, and snakes—to visit your yard looking for a quick meal. The best thing to do as soon as you discover a gopher in your yard is act swiftly to get rid of it with one of these three efficient methods.

How to Get Rid of Gophers - Backyard Mounds


1. Live Trapping
Live traps (as well as poison traps, which are detailed below) are non-labor-intensive ways to effectively remove a gopher from your lawn. More than just the least involved method, trapping is overall the most effective way to get rid of gophers or other rodent intruders. You can pick up a live trap at your local hardware store or purchase one online. Place it near the entrance of the burrow, with or without some lettuce or peanut butter inside (alas, experts aren’t convinced that baiting the trap significantly increases your chances of trapping the little varmints). Once a gopher has been caught, you will need to fill the tunnels and repair the holes to discourage new gophers from moving into their vacated burrows.

2. Repellent
For removal that’s a little more humane, you may want to send the gophers packing on their own using repellent. First, plan an exit route you hope they follow out and away from your property. Then, place castor oil pellets, peppermint oil, and even fabric softener sheets in the burrows nearest your house to start. One or two days later, place additional repellent in burrows further out—and closer to your desired exit point at the far edge of your yard. This will push the gophers away from the source and out. Gophers may also be turned off by pet waste or fish scraps placed in their tunnels, if you’d prefer to use waste you have on hand. The major downside to rodent repellents is that they likely won’t drive gophers far enough out—if you have close neighbors, you can guess where the rodents might move next.

3. Poison
Disguised as a tasty grain to attract gophers and other outdoor rodents, poisonous gopher bait will often utilize a toxic chemical like zinc phosphide. (Avoid any that list strychnine on the label as an active ingredient, because this poison remains in the gopher’s system and may poison any predator who feasts on a poisoned gopher’s remains.) Follow the manufacturer’s instructions closely, and deposit the appropriate amount at the burrow entrance using a dispenser probe, which can be purchased at the same time you’re picking up the poison. While poison is easy and efficient to administer, it does cause potential hazard to pets and children, so consider carefully before using them on your property.

The Undesirables: Flooding and Fumigating
Though it sometimes get the job done, flooding gopher tunnels with water not only harms the lawn, but it also won’t guarantee an evacuation. Water simply loosens the dirt, making your land easier to tunnel through. Until the water recedes, the gopher can easily retreat to higher ground and wait it out.

More ideas that aren’t worth the time effort: Fumigating (smoking gophers out with the exhaust from a lawn mower or blower) or blowing up the holes. Aside from being downright dangerous, these methods will cause more harm to your lawn than even the most active burrowing gopher. Often, gophers will seal themselves in a tunnel and wait out the fumes anyway.

How to Get Rid of Gophers - Backyard Hole


Gone for Good
After attempting one of the three extermination methods, check to see if the gophers have packed up and moved on by poking a hole into one of the burrows. If after a few days the hole stays open, your guests are gone! Your work isn’t quite over, though: Once they’ve left, make sure they’re gone for good with a few precautionary measures. Start by planting natural gopher-repellent plants such as natal plum, lavender, salvia, catmint, oleander, penstemons, rhaphiolepis, rosemary, and/or strawberries. If you tend to a flower or vegetable garden, dig a trench around the plot and bury a wire mesh screen (hardware cloth) in it to prevent burrowing. Finally, if extra concerned, place a solar- or battery-powered ultrasonic emitter in your yard to keep gophers and any other rodents at bay. The device, staked in the ground above the surface, creates vibrations small enough for humans to miss but big enough to annoy small pests. This trifecta of—repellent plants, a trench, and an emitter—can ensure your unwelcome guests don’t return, leaving your yard low-maintenance and critter-free!

How To: Sharpen Lawn Mower Blades

Sharp blades all season long will provide the cutting edge needed to guarantee a healthy, green lawn this year.

How to Sharpen Lawn Mower Blades - Lawn Mower


At the start of growing season, part of the necessary prep every homeowner with hopes of a greener yard tacks (or should tack) onto his to-do list involves the cleaning and sharpening of the lawn mower blades. If the blades are left dull, each afternoon spent mowing only rips and chews the grass. Coarse-cut grass doesn’t just look bad; it’s also more vulnerable to pests, disease, and drought.

While old-fashioned cylinder or reel mowers—those with a cutting bar and multiple-blade assembly that cuts forward as the operator pushes it—likely need professional servicing, the more typical gas- or electric-powered rotary mower can be taken care of in a do-it-yourself fashion. These utilize a single blade that spins horizontally around a vertical spindle—easy to remove and maintain at home. If yours is a riding lawn mower, you’re in luck, too: These machines typically have two rotary blades, which can be removed and sharpened just the same. Read on for how to care for your largest landscaping tool, and you’ll reap the benefits of a clean-cut all season long.

- Work gloves
- Socket wrench
- Scraper
- Vise
- Safety glasses
- Bastard-cut mill file, power drill with sharpening stone attachment, or rotary grinder
- Bucket of water (if using grinder)
- Blade balancer

Even a dull blade can mangle your hands, so first disconnect the spark-plug wire and put on a pair of work gloves. Then, flip the mower over, spark-plug side up. Holding one side of the blade to keep it from moving, loosen the blade’s mounting nut using your socket wrench.

Clean the blade with a scraper and assess its condition. If rocks, branches, and other debris have inflicted deep nicks, you’ll want to replace it. Otherwise, gather the tools you need to sharpen it manually or mechanically.

At this point, you have a few options for how to proceed.

To sharpen the blade manually, clamp it horizontally in a vise and run a bastard-cut mill file along the cutting edge, using a one-way down stroke. Follow the existing angle (usually 45 degrees, but you can refer to your owner’s manual for the ideal angle) until the blade has the sharpness of a butter knife. Aim to remove an equal amount of metal from the cutting edge of both ends of the blade. Tip: Counting strokes may help you keep track.

A faster technique involves a power drill with a sharpening stone attachment. Clamp the blade—cutting side up—in a vise. Secure the sharpening stone in the drill; the stone’s plastic guide should rest against the rear of the blade to ensure the proper cutting angle. Put on safety glasses, turn on the drill, and move the stone from the center of the blade to the tip.

The fastest way to sharpen the blade is with a bench grinder. With this method, you’ll need to be careful not to oversharpen the blade or remove too much metal. Oversharpening creates a thin edge, which is easy to damage, and removing too much metal shortens the life of the blade. Hold the blade perpendicular to the rotating wheel as you move it along the cutting edge at the angle of the existing bevel. This throws sparks, so be sure to wear safety glasses. If the blade gets too hot, dip it in a bucket of water to cool it.

Check the blade’s balance before remounting it, because a lopsided blade will wobble and overtax the mower’s engine. Set a blade balancer on a flat surface and rest the blade on the balancer using the center hole. If the blade dips, use the file, sharpening stone, or grinder to remove metal from the back edge—not the cutting edge—of the heavier side toward the end of the blade.

You can also check the balance by hanging the blade on a wall from a nail through its center hole. If the blade tilts to one side, remove material from that side.

Reinstall the blade, reconnect the spark-plug wire, and get to work!

How to Sharpen Lawn Mower Blades


3 Fixes for an Icy Walk and Driveway

Use these three slick solutions to deice your walkway and stop winter weather slips and falls in their tracks!

How to Remove Ice from Driveway - Snow-Cleared Driveway


Snow days may be cause for celebration, but the party comes to a screeching halt when you shovel your snowy walkway only to discover a treacherous layer of ice beneath it—an accident just waiting to happen. Though conventional wisdom may lead you to throw salt on the problem, resist. While the salt will speed melting, when that water refreezes, the corrosive effect of salt may crack and damage the concrete. Instead, use any of these three non-damaging solutions to quickly and safely deal with that sheet of ice on your shoveled walk or driveway.



How to Remove Ice from Driveway - with Rubbing Alcohol

Photo: via directrelief

You may have noticed alcohol listed as an ingredient on the packaging of many commercial deicers. That’s because standard 70 percent rubbing alcohol solution has an extremely low freezing point, making it an ideal deicer. The lower the freezing point, the less likely it will be that your accumulated precipitation will again congeal into a hazardous skating rink.

This season, rather than picking up another pack of store-bought deicer, save some money and avoid lines at the hardware store by pouring rubbing alcohol onto icy areas on the walkway. Or, for a solution you can stow away year-round, combine two parts rubbing alcohol with one part warm water in a spray bottle. Spritz the solution liberally onto the surface of your walkway or driveway to coat—and gradually melt—the ice.



How to Remove Ice from Driveway - with Magnesium Chloride


Magnesium chloride is a household staple for many Northeasterners, and for good reason: It can effectively melt ice at a temperature of about -15 degrees Celsius and can tackle moderate to significant ice accumulations with relative ease. In addition, magnesium chloride offers a more environmentally friendly and pet-friendly alternative to its counterpart, calcium chloride.

For optimal results, purchase magnesium chloride in pellet rather than flake form. Disperse the pellets by hand over icy paths until they are roughly uniform in distribution. As the magnesium chloride pellets penetrate the ice, the chemical components will melt it—and your winter worries—away.



How to Remove Ice from Driveway - with Cat Litter


For homeowners with pets, the cat is out of the bag that kitty litter is an effective way to avert slips, falls, and other wintry spills. While kitty litter isn’t actually a deicer, it helps create friction so you can gain traction over slippery surfaces.

If you’re flying out the door and can’t wait around for the ice to melt, toss a fair amount of non-clumping kitty litter by hand over an icy sidewalk or in the furrows left by the tire treads in your driveway. With these granules laid out, you’ll gain firmer footing on the treacherous ice. You don’t have a cat in the house or you’re out of kitty litter? Substitute other gritty materials that you happen to have on hand, such as sand, wood chips, sawdust, or fireplace ash. Not only will the path forward be less slippery, but your shed will be free of clutter!

Genius! The $0 Sled You Can Build in 10 Minutes

Celebrate snow days in style with this free, compact, and reusable sled.



For kids, nothing beats the thrill of the first snowy day of the season. While they get busy building a snowman, you can whip up a DIY sled fast out of nothing more than the remnants of holiday shopping and a roll of duct tape. It’s no saucer sled from the Griswold family vacation, but, if you have a sloping backyard or a hilly park nearby, it’ll keep them busy for hours—while you get some well-deserved rest and relaxation inside.

After a move from southern California to Seattle, the crafty mom behind Artzy Creations didn’t have much in the way of winter gear. Storebought sleds and toboggans get the job done, but they also hog valuable real estate in the garage during spring, summer, and fall. So DIYer Melanie Artz decided to design sleds for her two little ones based on what she had available aplenty: cardboard boxes leftover from her move. It turns out that a box that measures at least 16 inches long creates a pretty perfect kid-size seat when opened up.

So she folded each flattened box in half to make a toy sturdy enough for use in the snow, then taped along the sides. A scissors-cut hole at one end of the sled offers a handle for riders to hold on the way down the hill and carry the creation back to the top again. Most importantly, though, Melanie wrapped more tape around the entire body of the sled to keep the cardboard structure from getting soaked and soggy after hours of play in the wet snow. Her tip for those kids with a need for speed: Stick the tape on lengthwise, from front to back rather than side to side, to reduce friction encountered while sliding downhill. A nice bonus? The racing stripe design really transforms this simple sled into a speedy thrill ride.

FOR MORE: Artzy Creations






Quick Tip: Speed Up Snow Shoveling with Cooking Spray

This winter, stop shoveling snow from the driveway at a glacial pace. Call a culinary companion to your rescue using this time-saving trick.

Easy Snow Removal - Use Cooking Spray


Winter’s first snowfall is greeted with open arms for affording fun-filled activities like bobsledding, skiing, and building snowmen. But the persistent precipitation soon outstays its welcome, piling up on your entryway, car, and—most irksome—your driveway. To rid your hardscape of the fluff means embarking on the tedious, finger-numbing task of shoveling snow for hours on end. The kicker? The payoff of all that work lasts only until the next snowfall. Fortunately, you can spare time and your back by adding a dash of genius and a splash of cooking spray to your annual shoveling ritual.

Easy Snow Removal - The Trick for Your Shovel


When Old Man Winter beckons you to leave the comfort of your warm bed to shovel the driveway before the day’s work, head to the shed to collect a plastic or metal snow shovel. Then, before pounding the pavement of the driveway, make a beeline for the kitchen to grab a can of non-stick cooking spray—any variety of oil will do. Generously coat both the front and back of the shovel blade with the cooking spray.

Just as cooking spray acts as a lubricant and emulsifier that prevents food residue from adhering to pots and pans, so too does it work its magic on the shovel by keeping snow and ice from sticking to the blade. Rather than struggling to dislodge snow with each successive lift of the shovel, the oil allows you to slide the heftiest precipitation off the shovel blade quickly and easily. So stock up on a few extra cans at the supermarket before you have the chance to get snowed in, and you and your pristine driveway will be the envy of the neighborhood!

Buyer’s Guide: Best Leaf Blowers

Don't let leaves wreak havoc on your lawn! If you take a little time now to choose the right leaf blower for your yard, you'll be able to breeze through your pesky fall maintenance in the months to come.

Best Leaf Blowers


In many parts of the country, ’tis the time for trees to start showing signs of crimson and gold. Yet while fall foliage is beautiful on the trees, it’s much less attractive when it’s littering your lawn. Resist the rake! This backbreaking chore makes you stiff and sore, then saddles you with bags full of leaves to haul away. This year, why not use a leaf blower to make short work of all that seasonal litter? There are a wide variety of styles and sizes of leaf blowers on the market today, ranging from light-duty handheld units to heavyweight professional-grade models. Read on to learn about the different types of leaf blowers and their relative strengths so you can hone in on the best blower for your lawn-care needs.

Best Leaf Blowers - Yardwork


Size: Small, handheld leaf blowers—usually sporting a shoulder strap—are suitable for homeowners who have an average-size suburban lot and a few trees. Larger, backpack-style models are ideal for those with bigger properties or yards with many trees. Wheeled, walk-behind blowers are generally used by the pros or by homeowners with a substantial amount of wooded property. It is important to take the total weight of the blower into account before purchasing—while a larger model may be more powerful, it will probably also be more unwieldy.


Power: Leaf blowers are rated by cubic feet per minute (CFM), a measurement of the volume of air that is pushed through the unit. Blowers with higher CFM ratings can move more leaves at a faster rate. Another important rating, the power output of a leaf blower, is measured in cubic centimeters (cc) for gasoline-powered motors; amps (A) for corded electric blowers; and volts (V) for cordless, battery-powered blowers. Miles-per-hour (MPH) ratings, yet another indication of a blower’s power, measure the speed at which air exits the unit.


Fuel Type: There are three different types of power systems for leaf blowers:

- Gasoline: Gasoline-powered leaf blowers are typically the most powerful—ideal for properties of a quarter acre or more—and come in two-cycle or four-cycle engines. Two-cycle engines run on a blend of oil and gasoline, and offer a good balance between power and weight; four-cycle engines run on gasoline alone but tend to be heavier than two-cycle engines and also require regular oil changes. Note that these models produce exhaust that contains carbon monoxide and other pollutants and therefore should always be used outdoors or in a well-ventilated space.

- Corded Electric: Corded electric units are lightweight, portable, and quieter than their gasoline-powered counterparts. Light-duty electric sweepers can handle driveways, decks, and patios, while higher-powered electric blowers can take on yards up to a quarter of an acre. Corded electric blowers provide steady power without the weight of a battery; however, because the cord restricts mobility, they are used primarily for small yards or areas near the house.

- Battery-Powered: Showcasing many of the same advantages as an electric model, cordless battery-powered blowers also offer excellent mobility. The batteries, however, add a little weight and need to be recharged periodically. Some cordless leaf blowers use batteries that are interchangeable with other power equipment or accessories, including string trimmers, hedge trimmers, and chain saws. If you have several such battery-powered tools, or if you have a particularly large lawn, it may be in your best interest to keep some extra batteries on hand.


Noise: The most frequent complaint about leaf blowers is that they are noisy. Many gasoline-powered models emit 90 to 102 decibels during use; electric and battery-powered units typically range from 65 to 78 decibels. Some local municipalities have enacted laws capping leaf blower noise at 65 or 70 decibels at a distance of 50 feet away, so it might be a good idea to check your local ordinances before purchasing a leaf blower. A unit with variable speed settings, which allow you to adjust the airflow and movement of debris, can also help with noise control. Always wear eye and ear protection and a dust mask while operating a leaf blower.


Accessories: A vacuum and/or shredding or mulching attachment is a highly desirable feature that enables you to shred leaves so they can be used as mulch in garden beds, thereby reducing yard waste. Some vacuum-capable models include larger-diameter chutes or tubes that help collect leaves. Reduction ratios—such as 10:1 or 16:1—indicate the number of bags of leaves that a blower with mulching capabilities can reduce to one bag.


While there are a tremendous number of leaf blowers available, both in stores and online, we’ve done our homework to narrow the field for you. Taking into consideration the criteria listed above as well as reviews from actual users like yourself and ratings from leading consumer testing sites, we identified the top-rated leaf blowers on the market today, one in each category: gas-powered, battery-powered, and handheld.


Husqvarna 350BT 50.2cc 2-Cycle X-Torq Gas-Powered 180 MPH Midsize Backpack

Best Leaf Blowers - Husqvarana


This powerhouse received a whopping 4.6 out of 5 stars on Amazon, praised by many owners for its ease of use. In the words of one reviewer: “The time we save clearing leaves makes me wish we’d bought it a long time ago.” This gas-powered blower has a 50cc, two-stroke, CARB-compliant motor rated at slightly over two horsepower, ideal for large yards with many trees. It’s rated at more than 690 CFM but has a somewhat high noise rating of 104 decibels—although at 50 feet away, the decibel rating falls below 70, making it compliant with noise ordinances in many municipalities. Weighing in at 22.5 pounds, the Husqvarna distributes its weight evenly for a comfortable afternoon of yard cleanup through its supportive backpack and wide shoulder straps. Available on Amazon; $320.


Toro 51609 12-amp Variable-Speed (up to 235) Ultra Blower Vac

Best Leaf Blowers - Toro


The Toro was rated as the “Best Bang for Your Buck” by and received 4.3 out of 5 stars from Amazon shoppers. The electric-powered Toro 51609 Ultra boasts a 12-amp motor with a variable-speed control conveniently mounted on top of the casing. Output ranges from a relatively gentle 112 MPH to a top-end figure of 235 MPH. The unit carries a rating of 390 CFM and a vacuuming and mulching ratio of 16:1. Plus, a quick-release latch lets you convert the blower into a vacuum in no time flat. At 67 decibels, the Toro falls within the noise restrictions of most municipalities, and the blower’s 7.5-pound weight makes it comfortable and easy to use. Available on Amazon; $90.


Black & Decker LSWV36 40V Lithium-Ion Sweeper/Vac

Best Leaf Blowers - Black and Decker


This battery-powered, cordless unit received the top-ranked Gold Award from for its efficient and easy-to-use design, and Amazon users appreciated that its battery life was “much better than expected.” The Black & Decker is powered by a 40-volt lithium-ion rechargeable battery and features variable speed options for maximum control. The blower is rated at 85 CFM and easily converts to vacuum mode. In addition, the blow tube has a built-in scraper to help remove leaves and debris from hard surfaces. Weighing in at 5.4 pounds, this blower is light enough for almost anyone to use for extended periods of time, and the electric motor is quieter than that of many other models. Available on Amazon; $143.

Bob Vila Radio: Sharpening Your Hedge Trimmer

Electric hedge trimmers are only as effective as their blades are sharp. Restore the original cutting power of the tool by taking the time to file down its now-dull cutting edges. Here's how.


Powered hedge trimmers are a tremendous time-saver for any homeowner who prefers to handle his own landscaping. But if the blades of the tool aren’t sharp, the hedge trimmer tears and shreds foliage instead of cutting it cleanly. Follow these simple steps to sharpen hedge trimmers safely.

How to Sharpen Hedge Trimmers


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First, don a pair of gloves and protective goggles. After you’ve removed the bolts that hold the two blades together, clamp each blade, one at a time, into a bench vice. Next, run a metal file down each cutting edge, being sure to keep the file at the same angle as the cutting edge. Push the file in one direction only—not back and forth—and continue until the cutting edge looks shiny. To test for sharpness, draw the edge of a sheet of paper against the cutting edges. If they’re really sharp, the blades should slice the paper. Before reassembling the too, lightly coat the blades with linseed oil to protect against corrosion and preserve their useful lifespan.

Bob Vila Radio is a 60-second home improvement radio tip of the day carried on more than 186 stations in 75 markets around the country. Click here to subscribe, so you can automatically receive each new episode as it arrives—absolutely free!

Bob Vila Radio: A Tidier Garden Hose

Forever prone to kinks and tangles, traditional garden hoses are a hassle to handle and store. Much more manageable by comparison, coiled hoses make for a tidy alternative, particularly for those who have smaller outdoor spaces to maintain.


Is your green thumb confined to a small space? If you’re watering window boxes, a container garden on your deck, or a tiny backyard oasis, then a coiled garden hose may be your best bet.

Coiled Garden Hoses


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What makes it a smart buy? For one thing, although it stretches to meet your needs, a coiled hose always returns to its tight, compact, spring-like original shape. Lightweight, durable, and, most importantly, kink-free, coiled hoses come in a variety of colors and lengths (most measure 15 or 25 feet long). Being half an inch in diameter, somewhat smaller than traditional hoses, the coiled variety come with reduced flow and pressure. But what draws people isn’t their performance—it’s their convenience. A word to the wise, though: Once you let go, these hoses quickly recoil, so be a bit careful about what you leave in its path.

Bob Vila Radio is a 60-second home improvement radio tip of the day carried on more than 186 stations in 75 markets around the country. Click here to subscribe, so you can automatically receive each new episode as it arrives—absolutely free!

Fenway Park’s Groundskeeper Shares His Secrets to a Lush, Green Lawn

If you want a lawn as rich and beautiful as a major league ball field, check out these strategies for seeding, feeding, mowing, and more from the man responsible for the turf at one of the most gorgeous parks in the game!

How to Make Grass Green - Fenway Park

Photo: Courtesy of the Boston Red Sox

David Mellor was on his way to an athletic scholarship and a promising pitching career when tragedy struck: He got hit by a car, sidelining his dream. Yet, Mellor still made it to the majors, turning his love of baseball into a horticultural art form—today he’s director of grounds for the Boston Red Sox. His amazing “striping” patterns give venerable Fenway Park its flawless look and feel, and he’s equally discriminating as a homeowner. “Your lawn makes that first impression of your property, so attention to detail matters for curb appeal,” Mellor says. Here, the author of Picture Perfect: Mowing Techniques for Lawns, Landscapes, and Sports and The Lawn Bible: How to Keep It Green, Groomed, and Growing Every Season of the Year gives you his five keys to home-turf advantage.

How to Make Grass Green - Fenway Park Head Groundskeeper David Mellor

Photo: Courtesy of the Boston Red Sox

1. Seed Like a Star
If your lawn is looking sparse, now’s the perfect time to fill it out by overseeding. “Fall gives the best root growth,” Mellor says, “because soil is warm, and while morning dew keeps it moist, that bit of frost will kill weed seed.” Start by buying quality seed appropriate for your site and growing zone; you’ll get better cultivars that are less disease susceptible. Next, Mellor advises roughing up the area with a hard-tooth rake. “Roots grow in the pores of soil, so loosening it up allows roots to reach down into the crevices,” he says. Toss seed as if you’re feeding chickens, or use a dimpled seeder to create, “a random pattern so grass won’t look like cornrows,” Mellor says. “Then, for all-important seed-soil contact, step on it or drive over it with the mower. This ensures seed won’t blow away, dry out, or get eaten by birds.”

2. Fertilize Strategically
The key to Fenway’s gorgeous turf is the potent combination of iron and manganese. “It gives us a dark green color without a flush of growth, which helps enhance striping,” Mellor reveals. Yet, while feeding your grass keeps it growing actively, every lawn has unique needs—and that’s where a soil test comes in. “Your grass is only as good as the soil below. Testing provides a nutrient and pH analysis, as well as recommendations for treating it,” says Mellor.

Search online for your county extension agent or go through a local university’s agriculture department to obtain this vital, inexpensive diagnostic. “Some folks think if a little bit’s good a lot must be better,” Mellor cautions, “but too much fertilizer makes your lawn disease-prone and can harm the environment.” Follow directions to the letter, keep your drop spreader functioning properly, and never allow fertilizer to run off, where it can get into the sewer system. Mellor’s tip: To ensure that product doesn’t drip, shut the unit off as you near the end of a row, then flip it back on after you turn around.

3. Time Your Watering Right
“The most common mistake people make is coming home from work and turning on the sprinkler,” Mellor observes. “Letting grass sit wet all night exacerbates dew-point conditions and sets you up for disease and mildew.” Mellor notes that the ideal watering time is between 2 a.m. and 7 a.m.

“If you don’t have an irrigation system, get a timer that hooks to your spigot to turn the sprinkler on and off,” he suggests. The average lawn needs an inch of water a week (a bit more if soil is sandy), so measure your sprinkler output with this easy trick: Space several coffee cups across your lawn every few feet, crank the water for 10 minutes, then check the cups. The amount collected will help you determine how long to keep your sprinklers running in future for optimal watering.

Also bear in mind that different lawn locations may have different requirements. “Water a shaded area too much, and you open the door to disease, injury, and insects,” Mellor says. While a moisture meter monitors conditions at Fenway, he suggests homeowners simply dig into the lawn here and there with a small spade to get a feel for it.

How to Make Grass Green - Fenway Park on Game Day

Photo: Courtesy of the Boston Red Sox

4. Treat Weeds with Tolerance
In a shocking twist, Mellor says his favorite flower is the dandelion. “I once wanted a lawn like a pool table,” he admits. “Then I had two daughters, who taught me how beautiful dandelions are by how much fun they had picking bouquets and chasing each other while blowing the fluff.” While Mellor advises an easygoing attitude toward “out-of-place” plants, he still understands the desire for seamless green. “A healthy, actively growing lawn is your first line of defense against weeds,” he says. If they do pop up, he suggests digging them up, spot spraying, or pouring on some hot water and vinegar. “You don’t have to broadcast a chemical arsenal all over your lawn to get rid of a few weeds.”

5. Mow for Major Impact
For ideal conditions at Fenway, Mellor keeps the grass height at about an inch and a quarter. Home lawns should be longer, he advises, at two to two and a half inches tall. When mowing, never cut off more than one-third at a time. “With the one-third rule, you’ll never look like you’re baling hay out there,” Mellor says. “And it’s a myth that clippings cause thatch. At Fenway we collect them only around the edges of the infield, letting the majority recycle back into the field. Clippings keep your lawn from drying out, biodegrade into soil, and provide nitrogen for the grass.”

It’s also crucial for homeowners, who are bound to encounter the gamut from twigs to acorns to dog toys, to maintain sharp blades. “You wouldn’t shave with a dull razor,” Mellor reasons. “Dull blades fray the ends, making grass turn brown, stringy, and susceptible to disease.” Depending on lawn conditions, you may have to sharpen blades monthly or even weekly. Mellor’s tip for a little less work: “Consider investing in two or three sets of extra blades so you can leapfrog.”